Experience of the past alone won’t be enough for a council of the future

A RADICAL approach to staff recruitment could pave the way for authorities as the drive for better outcomes with less money becomes even more pressing.

South Hams & West Devon councils (SHWD), which have merged to provide a single set of services to residents this year, have taken a radical approach for local government by appointing staff based on their behaviours and cultural styles – rather than simply on their professional experience.

More than 200 staff, from top to bottom, at the two authorities have been going through the appointments process since the middle of last year – with one senior official describing it as “the most rigourous interview process I’ve ever experienced”.

Developed by national efficiency agency iESE – which has saved more than £600m for councils since it formed a decade ago – the IMPACT framework tests behaviours and cultural styles – rather than evidencing professional expertise and length of service.

As the reorganisation rolled out and new roles were filled, candidates were assessed on their professional background only to reach interview stage. Once at interview, they were assessed on six behaviours – communication, adaptability, co-operation, challenge, outcome-focussed and responsibility.

Now the IMPACT model has been recognised as a finalist by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) as best practice, as the national body recognises the most innovative HR solutions of the past 12 months.

SHWD, which will reduce the combined annual budget of the two councils by 25% - saving Devon taxpayers around £4m a year – is among the first authorities to adopt the new style of organisational change.

Andrew Larner, Chief Executive of iESE, said: “It’s fantastic to see a local government project at the top of a national shortlist for innovation.

“But more importantly, it highlights an important shift councils will need to make if we really want to achieve ‘more with less’ over the next parliamentary term.

“We have a huge body of evidence that shows the desire to be radical and take a risk-based approach – often asserted by councils in the current climate – only works when the service structures are matched by the right people. The success rate of organisational change drops significantly unless matched by the right behaviours and culture.

“Leaders in the new era of local government aren’t just experienced, long-serving service staff – they are innovators, outcome-focussed and have to be able to think on their feet. They don’t do what’s always been done – they explore new ideas. The CIPD nomination is as much an endorsement of this approach as it is recognition for the work of iESE.”